Let me begin by putting more tender souls at rest: I’m not going to reveal any of the surprises of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that might spoil your enjoyment. Nor do I intend to go into any detail about how the film differs from the book (large chunks of the 768 pages have been excised to keep the film down to its already extended 138 minutes).
Fans of the films and books have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fifth film instalment this week and the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, on July 21 (look out for our review on July 23 once my eyes have uncrossed from the marathon).
So how do our heroes fare this time round? Just the other day, I saw a trailer for a TV screening of The Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s almost like looking back at your own school photos. What happened to those little round-faced boys and girls? In this case, they’ve grown into attractive and accomplished young adults. And, happily, their acting ability has also grown and the whole young cast clearly relishes the chance to get its teeth into the more complex and grown-up material. Daniel Radcliffe makes a rather too chiselled Harry – the film almost completely focuses on him, a burden he carries well. Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have almost nothing to work with, but are so immersed in their characters that they’re still highly appealing. As with the book, the antics of twins George and Fred (played by real-life twins James and Oliver Phelps) provide much of the comedy.
The older regulars have less to do – in some cases, you can count the words they’re allocated – but all attack the material with relish, particularly Alan Rickman. Gary Oldman gives Sirius real charisma and depth and he and Daniel have a great deal of chemistry with each other. Unfortunately, however, Helena Bonham-Carter was rather too one-dimensionally manic as evil witch Bellatrix, sporting Amy Winehouse hair, although she didn’t have more to do than cackle wildly.
I’m sure Potter fans will be keen to see how newcomer Evanna Lynch and Natalia Tena shape up as popular characters Luna Lovegood and Tonks respectively. Natalia has little to do but set up her presence for next time round, and we get only the slightest inkling of Tonk’s abilities. Evanna brings an appealing sweetness to her character that’s not so developed in the book and comes over as the most well-adjusted person at the school – an auspicious debut.
But it’s Imelda Stanton who steals the film as the evil Prof Dolores Umbridge, whose fluffy pink exterior hides a will of steel. Kudos to the designer of her truly awful wardrobe and the kitten plates that line her office walls, both of which will make you shudder. She categorically refuses to teach practical lessons in Defence Against the Dark Arts and British parents will need to suppress a snigger at her declaration that children should learn such dangerous things in a ‘safe and nurturing environment’.
There’s lots more magic this time around as Harry teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts to the rest of Dumbledore’s Army in some of the film’s best scenes. We finally have the thrill of seeing battles between powerful wizards in the climactic scenes in the Ministry of Magic at the end as the Order finally gets to go wand to wand against the Death Eaters and Voldemort fights Dumbledore.
Although David Yates’ direction isn’t anything too novel or creative, he does have some excellent moments, the scenes in the Prophecy Room and anything involving Umbridge’s edicts being particularly striking.
Anyone who hasn’t read the book may find it hard to keep up with who’s who, but I’m sure you’ll find a willing Potter fan to explain it all. Parents should note that this is a darker film than the others, but no more so than the book. Mind you, it seems it’s the kids who are most able to handle anything JKR might throw at them. I went to see The Chamber of Secretsand was flanked by a large number of very small children. On Aragog’s entrance, I hid my eyes (I’m with Ron on being terrified of spiders), only to be startled as a tiny hand slipped into mine and a little voice whispered: ‘It’s all right. There’s no need to be scared’I’ll look after you’. Ah, the shame!